EPIC Profiles

Developing Empathy through Research: Martha Cotton, A Profile

By ALANNAH BERSON How do you make 1000 designers better at research while ensuring quality and rigor at the same time? This is the kind of challenge Martha Cotton gets tackle at work everyday as Group Design Director for Research at Fjord—and as the newest member of the EPIC Board. “If we are going to deeply understand the people we are designing for, I’m passionate about helping my design colleagues get that understanding in the best and most efficient way. It is definitely a very fun part of my job, thinking about elevating how we do design research, and creating the tools and resources to support roughly 1000 designers around the world in their efforts to be better researchers.” One of the reasons Martha is so passionate about mentoring and teaching future researchers is that for her, becoming an ethnographer was a bit of an accident. “I was incredibly lucky early on to have the support of mentors who patiently nurtured what has turned out to be my life’s work.” This “accidental career” that Martha found...

Reimagining Possibilities for Ethnographic Practice: Rita Denny, A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by JOSEF WIELAND, University of California – Irvine As the Program Chair for EPIC2017, Rita Denny is not shy about what we can learn when we come together as a diverse professional community of social researchers and designers and marketers: "First, that there is a world of possibility. People are doing really interesting things of which you had no idea.” There is tremendous value in breaking down silos and connecting an interdisciplinary network of researchers, designers, and scholars. “Second, that someone could reimagine the possibilities of their own work as a result of the EPIC conference. The hope is that the conference really enables people to think differently.” Rita’s work over the years has been defined by encouraging people to contemplate perspectives and potentials that they hadn’t previously considered—an instinct she has foregrounded for EPIC2017. A founding partner of the boutique consultancy Practica Group and co-editor and co-author of award winning books considered foundational...

Making Change within Complex Systems: Alexandra Mack, a Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by ELIZABETH KAZIUNAS, University of Michigan What do historical landscapes or tacit knowledge have to do with reimagining the future of shipping or location intelligence services? In linking everyday practices with wider forces of complex organizational systems, Alex Mack argues that thinking anthropologically about infrastructure—as both a technical system and a relational process—can help reveal new directions for design interventions. A Senior Fellow at Pitney Bowes and a member of the EPIC Board, Alex’s work has had significant impact in her organization and far beyond. Alex recently sat down for an interview to share insights from her career. She reflected on how early ethnographic field work studying ancient urban landscapes as a PhD student helped shape her research sensibilities and worldview. In transitioning from academia to industry, this deeply social way of seeing the world continues to influence her work at Pitney Bowes, both for addressing immediate client needs and in developing strategic...

“Understanding the World through Engagement”: Jeanette Blomberg, A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by CHRISTINE T. WOLF, IBM Research How can risk-taking propel an ethnographic career? Just ask Jeanette Blomberg, who is no stranger to professional risk-taking. Her career journey, including major contributions at foundational tech giants in Silicon Valley, has centered on making participation in various forms core to ethnographic work. Jeanette is Principal Researcher at IBM Research – Almaden Research Center (ARC), where she has been for 13 years. Previously, she was Director of Experience Modeling at Sapient, Professor at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden, and founding member of the Work Practice and Technology group at Xerox – PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). I’ve gotten to know Jeanette over the past year, working as an intern and student researcher in the area of work practice analytics under her guidance at IBM. We set aside time to discuss her professional experiences on the occasion of her recent induction into IBM’s Academy of Technology, a high honor within the corporation...

“Culture Matters More than We Think”: Eric Weiner / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by TAMARA HALE, Effective UI EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker Eric Weiner is a veteran foreign correspondent and New York Times best selling author. Join Eric at EPIC2016! In an interconnected, technology-driven world, does culture still matter? Can there really be “best practices” to be drawn from the vast range of human experiences? These are some of the questions driving Eric Weiner’s influential writing and thinking. I spoke with Eric about his career trajectory and the inspiration he has drawn from the discipline of anthropology. His award-winning journalism and critically acclaimed books, The Geography of Bliss, Man Seeks God and The Geography of Genius all use cross-cultural and historical comparison as a strategy to make key concepts intriguing for the general public. After writing his first two books, explains Eric, “I realized that I’ve really been engaging in amateur cultural anthropology.... I believe that culture matters more than we think.” Eric’s interest in culture, his deep appreciation...

“Ethnography is Fundamental”: John F Sherry, Jr / A Profile

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EPIC Profiles Series by PAUL OTTO EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker John F. Sherry is the Raymond W. & Kenneth G. Herrick Professor of Marketing in the Mendoza College of Business and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Join John at EPIC2016! I caught up with Dr. John F. Sherry, joint professor in Marketing and Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, in late spring, right after exams. John has had a prolific career in ethnography as a practitioner and theorist, with 10 books, over 100 articles, and numerous consulting engagements to his name. He is a collaborative scholar, and quick to point out others’ influence on his work—Sidney Levy, Joel Cohen, William Wilkie, H. Russell Bernard, Marvin Harris, and more. In addition to his work on brand strategy and consumer behavior (among his many distinctions, John is past president of the Consumer Culture Theory Consortium), John has had “a long term investment in placeways—retail, atmospherics, that kind of thing,” which he says resonates with...

Ethnographer on Wall Street: Karen Ho / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by RACHEL C. FLEMING, University of Colorado at Boulder EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and author of the widely acclaimed book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street based on three years of fieldwork among investment bankers and major financial institutions. Join Karen at EPIC2016! What do sentiments and ideologies have to do with Wall Street? Karen Ho would argue they are key for understanding and changing Wall Street’s institutional culture that generates and justifies a focus on the short-term. From working in a firm to interviewing workers and studying corporate publications, Karen’s insights into how particular mindsets come to dominate corporations or whole industries—in this case, the culture of liquidity—can help us transition from a culture of shortsightedness to one of creating long-term value. Karen did not originally aspire to become an anthropologist, but her upbringing shaped her anthropological...

William O. Beeman / A Profile

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EPIC Profiles Series by FRANCESCA SWAINE, University of Minneapolis Strike up a conversation with EPIC2016 Conference Chair Bill Beeman and you might be treated to his deep expertise in Iranian politics or pragmatic philosophy...or theater and art history, or smart service systems in product design. He truly is a Renaissance man. Trained as a linguistic anthropologist at Wesleyan University and the University of Chicago, Bill is a distinguished anthropologist, renowned author, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, opera singer, actor, and consultant to industry. A pioneer in establishing the value of ethnography in Industry, he forged a partnership between the Department of Anthropology and the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, co-hosts of EPIC2016. Pathmaking Ethnography for Transformative Innovation Bill’s masterful orchestration of art, science and industry are embodied in the conference theme pathmaking. His commitment to pathmaking is based on...

Simon Roberts / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by CHARLOTTE HOLLANDS Simon Roberts, a founder of Stripe Partners, is an expert at using the power of ethnography to drive strategy and innovation by continuously unveiling the 'black magic' of people's worlds. He has crafted a pioneering career, compelled by intense curiosity and key moments of serendipity. His illustrated journey begins with his discovery of anthropology at Edinburgh University... (please click on illustrations to enlarge)        EPIC Papers & Posts by Simon Roberts Knowing That and Knowing How: Towards Embodied Strategy (free article, sign-in required) Making the Case for Cases, Part 1: EPIC Case Studies 101 & Part 2: Pathmaking Bring Back the Bodies Models of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Models Putting Mobility on the Map: Researching Journeys and the Research Journey (free article, sign-in required) Charlotte Hollands is a freelance ethnographer, sketch-noter, and illustrator. She is currently researching the production-of-creativity through...

Melissa Cefkin / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by MOLLY SHADE, Hach Many of us have a kind of conversion story—that enlightening moment when we discovered anthropology at university or even later in our careers. But Melissa Cefkin knew she wanted to be an anthropologist by the age of fifteen. The daughter of a professor and raised in a college town, she was introduced to the discipline by a coworker studying to be a survey archaeologist. Recounting the experience, she remarked, “My first thought was, oh my God, if I study anthropology then I don’t actually have to choose between different disciplines! It’s a little bit of everything!” She was hooked. She obtained her B.A. in anthropology from the University of California Santa Cruz and went on to earn her Ph.D. at Rice University. Since 2006, she has played a major role in the development of EPIC, serving in multiple positions including President, Secretary, and Co-organizer. Melissa is currently Principal Scientist for Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley (NRC-SV). Anthropology complemented...

What Anthropology Brings to Innovation: John Sherry / A Profile

John Sherry
EPIC Profiles Series by HEATHER S. ROTH-LOBO, University of North Texas John W. Sherry, Director the Experience Innovation Lab at Intel Corporation, is a Keynote Speaker at EPIC2016—join us! “Anthropology is really undersold.” Dr. John Sherry’s words carry weight—he is Director of the Experience Innovation Lab at Intel Corporation. In addition to discovering ways to power innovation in this major multinational technology company, he works in Portland leading Oregon Smart Labs, an external business accelerator. I recently talked with John about innovation, big data, and lean startup. He has made it part of his life´s work to interpret the way markets move and ideas shift around, and his intimate understanding of these dynamics has been driven by his passion for solving social problems with a creative imagination. The mixture of these elements paved John’s successful career as an established anthropologist in a company known for and reinventing computing around the world. Anthropology is not only undersold,...

Donna Flynn / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by LUIS MACHADO, University of North Texas Walking a Different Path The path of American anthropology is becoming ever more diverse. Under the academic umbrella of Anthropology the world has been explored, analyzed, reflected on, and then determined to be wanting of more exploration. The Indiana Jones stereotype of the archaeologist or anthropologist is still a familiar reference in popular culture, perhaps surpassed for recent generations by Dr. “Bones” and her TV show bearing the same name. Anthropology in common parlance brings to mind the bold researcher off in the exotic far away, taking and studying the strange, bringing it back to the university and, after knocking dust off the hiking boots, demystifying it for the social science community and curious students. Yet, explorers of new kinds of anthropology are changing the conversation about who an anthropologist is and what they can do. Donna Flynn is one such anthropologist, creating and expanding these new frontiers. Donna Flynn is Vice President...

Luis Arnal / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by FERNANDO GALINDO, Tellus Institute "Innovation Lives at the Borders" Luis could talk forever about his passion for INSITUM. He doesn’t like to showcase himself as the company’s front man, but in fact, he leads one of the most important innovation consultancies in the world, with over 120 consultants, 7 offices and more than 1400 projects. INSITUM was recently featured by Fast Company magazine as the 4th most innovative company in Latin America for “being global brands’ Latin American translator.” Self-described as introverted, obsessive, and fearless, Luis spends most of his time thinking about other people, not himself. This, he acknowledges, “is what happens when you practice ethnography for so many years—there is a point when you can’t turn it off. I think I feed from trying to understand others, becoming a sponge for feelings, knowledge and stories.” We all have that first spark that set us on a career path. For Luis, the son of an academic researcher, it was the stimulating architecture...

Christian Madsbjerg / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by SHAE QUABBA How to Succeed in Business (Using Ethnography) Christian Madsbjerg gives the sense he is on a quest. He talks about the world with interest, respects intellectual firepower to resolve problems and doesn’t believe in the ‘dumbing down’ of anthropology or ethnographic practice. He is determined to understand how corporations operate and to mature the practice of corporate ethnography to better comprehend how people engage in the world. An outsider in many respects, Madsbjerg finds himself at the heart of US corporate strategy on a daily basis. A former philosophy student, Madsbjerg is a senior partner at ReD Associates, a consultancy that guides companies toward smarter strategy using the principles of anthropology and phenomenology. With offices in Copenhagen and New York, ReD Associates provide services to Fortune 300 companies, assisting them to navigate through complex problems. The impetus for working in the field of applied business anthropology was simple: “I learned that the...

ken anderson / A Profile

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EPIC Profiles Series by MIKE KIPPENHAN [based on an interview with ken at the Intel Jones Farm Campus, Hillsboro, Oregon, August 25, 2014] “Nobody liked them. No sense of humor.” These days ken anderson may not talk much about the French ethnographers he interacted with in Portugal’s Azores—or about his dissertation research at all—but when he does, his observations are acute. ken, now an ethnographer in Intel’s Cultural Transformations Lab and an EPIC board member, had an unusual approach to the work on that trip. “We were just laughing at everything because we didn’t understand what they were saying,” he said. “We thought laughing was a good thing to do.” Turns out, he was right. Now ken is situated in a different host culture—Intel. He believes it took him over a year to fully appreciate how the company operated. He had worked for high tech companies previously, and naturally viewed his new employer through a similar lens. When it finally sank in that Intel was a manufacturing company in the high...